We have both been to Paris many times and absolutely love visiting this beautiful city. The is something truly special about the 'City of Lights'. Of course, there is plenty to enjoy in the culture, restaurants and bars of Paris, but for the first (or many times) visitor, there are some must-see places.
France: Paris – Palace of Versailles
I had visited Versailles many years ago, but only visited the palace, and Karen had never been so we decided to go and check out as much as we could on a day trip.
There are several ways to visit Versailles. Many people go as part of an organised tour, but we decided to visit independently. You can also join a one-and-a-half-hour tour of the palace onsite for €10. Alternatively, you can do a self-guided tour, as we did. For those wanting more detail on a self-guided tour, you can rent an audioguide for €5, or download it on your phone for free.
There are so many things to see at Versailles that in reality to explore it fully would take more than a day – so if you only have limited time you should plan your visit to get the most out of it.
The Palace at Versailles is vast, with 2,300 rooms spread over 63,154 m². What started as a hunting lodge was built upon by several Kings of France, until it became the Palace we see today. Obviously, you can only visit a small number of the rooms when you tour.
Of the 2,300 rooms around 775 are bedrooms. Sadly, during the French Revolution, Versailles was ransacked and most of the furnishings and decorations were removed. Only, a few rooms have been restored to their former glory. Many rooms remain unfurnished, the only decorations being paintings.
There are a few rooms that stand out, such as the State Rooms that have been restored, the beautiful chapel, some painted ceilings and the famous Hall of Mirrors.
The Hall of Mirrors, the most famous room in the Palace, was built to replace a large terrace designed by the architect Louis Le Vau, which opened onto the garden. The terrace originally stood between the King’s Apartments to the north and the Queen’s to the south, but was awkward and above all exposed to bad weather, and it was not long before the decision was made to demolish it. Le Vau’s successor, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, produced a more suitable design that replaced the terrace with a large gallery. Work started in 1678 and ended in 1684.
For all its grandeur and size, the Palace at Versailles is not one of our favourite part of the estate. If the rooms had not been ransacked then we may have a different opinion.
Situated to the west of the palace, the gardens cover 800 hectares of land, much of which is landscaped in the classic French formal garden style of André Le Nôtre. Creating the gardens was a monumental task that took 40 years to complete. Creating the fountains and canals required the excavation of huge amounts of soil.
Right by the main palace building are some formal flower beds, which we thought could have been more impressive.
Three large parterres line the garden side of the Palace- The North Parterre, South Parterre and Water Parterre and consist of plant beds that are laid out in symmetrical patterns.
The Water Parterre features two large rectangular pools and is a beautiful illustration of light as an element of decoration, as it reflects the sun’s rays and lights up the outside wall of the Hall of Mirrors.
The North and South Parterres surround the base of the palace and can be viewed from the Water Parterre. The start of the North Parterre is marked by two bronze statues cast in 1688 – The Grinder and Modest Venus. A large circular pool featuring the Pyramid Fountain divides the area. Designed by Charles Le Brun, the fountain took three years to build and is composed of three tiers of lead basins held up by, dolphins, crayfish and Tritons.
Built by Louis Le Vau, the Orangery has a total of 1055 trees planted in decorative boxes and is one of the most exotic parts of the entire Versailles Garden. It features King Louis XIV’s favourite orange trees as well as lemon, oleander, pomegranate, olive and palm trees. The Orangery can be viewed from the queen’s apartment and from most of the South Wing apartments. The centre of the Orangery is marked by a circular pond from which six intricately patterned lawns extend out. It also features a central gallery that is more than 150 metres long with a 13-metre-high vaulted ceiling and leads out into a beautiful ornamental garden.
Some of the best features of the Château de Versailles royal grounds are the walks. Designed around two axes, north-south and east-west, there are several distinct paths that can be followed.
The Water Walk, also known as the infant walk, was designed by Le Nôtre in 1664 and is lined with 14 beautiful fountains depicting children holding small basins of water, tritons and satyrs. Beginning at the Neptune Fountain, the path goes past the Water Parterre and ends at the Orangery and the Lake of the Swiss Guards.
The Royal Way is a broad steep alley that starts at Leto’s amphitheatre and ends at the Iconic Apollo’s Fountain. The path is lined with horse chestnut trees, yew trees, hornbeam as well as sculptures by Puget, a famous Baroque sculptor. The beauty of these immense gardens is best experienced on foot.
The groves of Versailles created by André Le Nôtre, gardener and architect to the King, saw many Court entertainments and have often been modified over the years. Fountains, vases and statues adorned these little parks within the woods, where the kings would often go for walks.
Bowers of greenery in the wooded areas off the pathways, the groves form small gardens closed off by walls of greenery or trellises and reached by discreet paths up to their gates
There are over 50 fountain water features in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, all modelled on the Greco-Roman theme. Many of these fountains are spectacular in their own right, but in the months of April through November the water displays are set to music during the day and at night a light display is also added.
The Estate of Trianon
In an attempt to gain some brief respite from courtly etiquette, the kings of Versailles built themselves more intimate spaces close to the main palace. Adjoining the Petit Parc, the estate of Trianon is home to the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon palaces, as well as the Queen’s Hamlet and a variety of ornamental gardens.
The main Palace of Versailles had left us a bit underwhelmed but the Trianon Estate, with its smaller intimate palaces, less formal gardens and especially the Queen’s Hamlet became the favourite part of our visit to Versailles.
The Grand Trianon
King Louis XIV wanted somewhere to meet his mistress, later his secret wife, Madame de Maintenon. So, in 1687 work began on a small palace which initially was called the ‘Marble’ Trianon and later became the Grand Trianon. Its central colonnade that separates the courtyard and the gardens are very unique.
The Petit Trianon
Completed in 1768, the Petit Trianon, provided Louis XV and his new mistress the Comtesse Du Barry with the privacy which was so sorely lacking at the palace.
Marie-Antoinette, who had such trouble adapting to life in the court, received the Petit Trianon as a gift from Louis XVI in 1774 and developed a great attachment to this estate.
The Queen’s Hamlet
The Queen’s Hamlet, constructed between 1783 and 1786 under the supervision of Richard Mique, is an excellent example of the contemporary fascination with the charms of rural life. Inspired by the traditional rustic architecture of Normandy, this peculiar model village included a windmill and dairy, as well as a dining room, salon, billiard room and boudoir. Although it was reserved primarily for the education of her children, Marie-Antoinette also used the hamlet for promenades and hosting guests.
Meanwhile the Queen’s Theatre, inaugurated in 1780, is the only building to have survived fully intact and unchanged since the eighteenth century. The queen watched private performances here, but also took to the stage herself, another of her great passions.
Planning your visit to the Palace of Versailles
Getting to the Palace
SNCF trains from Gare Montparnasse arrive at Versailles Chantiers train station, which is 18 minutes on foot to the Palace.
SNCF trains from Gare Saint Lazare arrive at Versailles Rive Droite train station, 17 minutes on foot to the Palace.
RER line C arrives at Versailles Château – Rive Gauche train station, just 10 minutes’ walk to the Palace.
From the A13 motorway, take exit no.5 Versailles Centre and follow the signs for the Palace of Versailles. There are several places to park close to the Palace
|Address:||Place d’Armes, 78000 Versailles|
|Telephone:||T: + 33 1 30 83 78 00|
from 9.00 am to 6.30 pm. Closed on Mondays
Estate of Trianon
|Fees||Tickets for entire estate: €27|
Palace Only: €18
On days when the musical fountains are not playing the tickets are cheaper. There are lots of different options so it is worth checking the ticketing page on the website.
Access to the Palace and the estate of Trianon is free for visitors under 18 (or under 26 residing in the EU). However, visitors eligible for free admission must book a time slot via the online ticketing platform.
Best time to visit Paris
You’ll experience crowds from May to September, but encounter the most people in July (followed closely by June and August). We’d recommend visiting between October and April if your main objective is to avoid crowds. For the warmest temperatures, October and April are the best times to visit Paris sans crowds.
Other places to visit while in Paris
1. BANKS OF THE RIVER SEINE
The banks of the River Seine through the heart of Paris are listed as UNESCO world heritage site due to the incredible architecture of buildings such as Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Grand Palais and the examples of outstanding town planning, in particular, the large squares and avenues built by Haussmann at the time of Napoleon III have influenced town planning throughout the world.
2. MUSEE D’ORSAY
Housed in a train station built for the 1900 World’s Fair, the Musée d’Orsay is known throughout the world for its rich collection of Impressionist paintings including masterpieces as iconic as the Bal au Moulin de la galette from Renoir or The room at Arles de Van Gogh. Its collections include works of architecture, decorative arts and photography in addition to traditional artistic fields (painting, sculpture, graphic arts). They thus draw a broad panorama of French and European art from 1848 to 1914.
The Sacré-Coeur, consecrated in 1919, is one of the most iconic monuments in Paris. At the top of the Butte Montmarte, it has one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the capital, from 130 metres above the ground. In a Roman-Byzantine style, the Sacré Coeur is recognizable by its white colour. Inside the building, the ceiling is decorated with the largest mosaic in France measuring about 480 m². The crypt is also worth a visit. And to go even higher up, visitors can access the dome where the 360° view of Paris is magnificent.
4. THE LOUVRE MUSEUM
The Louvre, or the Louvre Museum, is the world’s most-visited museum, and a historic landmark in Paris, France. It is the home of some of the best-known works of art, including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. At any given point in time, approximately 38,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are being exhibited over an area of 72,735 square metres.
5. PÈRE LACHAISE CEMETARY
The Père Lachaise cemetery takes its name from King Louis XIV’s confessor, Father François d’Aix de La Chaise. It is the most prestigious and most visited necropolis in Paris. Here you will find the graves of such famous people as Frédéric Chopin, Colette, Jean de La Fontaine, Molière, Yves Montand, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro and Oscar Wilde are just a few.
6. CHÂTEAU DE FONTAINBLEAU
The Château de Fontainebleau is located in the small town bearing the same name and lies 40 miles (65 km) south-southeast of Paris by road. It has been the residence of 34 kings and two emperors, Fontainebleau is the only château that was lived in by every French monarch for almost eight centuries. With 1500 rooms, it is one of the biggest châteaux in France, and the most furnished in Europe.
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